Sunday, February 22, 2009

Say Cheese! At Taste. Again.

One of my favorite places in town to shop and enjoy good conversation is Taste Artisan Cheese in Hillcrest. I've written about them before, but this past week I stopped by to see what owner Mary Palmer had in stock and got samples of lots of interesting, some even astoundingly good, cheeses. Here are a few I wanted to share.

Roquefort Carles. This is, surprisingly, the last handmilled Roquefort that's made and made exclusively with Rye bread. This sheep's milk cheese is the specialty of Aveyron district of south central France. Crumble it on a salad or in pasta, add it to a sauce or, of course, eat it on its own. It pairs well with Sauternes or Port or even Sherry.

Rogue River Blue. I love blues and this one is simply spectacular. It's a domestic cow's milk blue cheese made by Rogue Creamery in Salem, Ore. What adds to its unique flavor is their technique of wrapping each wheel in local grape leaves that had been macerated in Pear Brandy. Not only does this add to the sublime flavors but it helps keep the cheese moist and creamy. Then, according to Mary, the cheese is aged at least a year in limestone. I took a wedge of this home with me. It's that irristible.

Five-Year Farmers Gouda. I'm a sucker for cheeses that give that little bit of crystalized crunch. Ten-year Hook's cheddar is one. Five-year Farmers Gouda is another. It's just a happy, sweet and nutty cheese that I don't want to pair with anything. I just want to cut in and nosh on it endlessly. This is what Parmigiano-Reggiano would taste like if it had a little butterscotch in it. I've been nibbling on it with little triangles of brown sugar shortbread I baked last week. Mary says it's great with dark chocolate. Try it with a glass of Port or Sauternes, a full-bodied red wine or dark beer.

Mary also sent me home with a container of shredded cheese. It's kind of a mystery as to what's in it, although it definitely includes some of the wonderful Farmers Gouda.

I wanted to see how it would melt, so yesterday I took the last "everything" bagel one of my LA cousins brought me from the great Western Bagel company, sliced it in half and did a preliminary toast in my toaster oven.

Then I sprinkled the cheese on the bagel and put it back in the toaster oven. It did a lovely melt.

It was wonderful on the bagel, but now I know I can add it to pasta for a creamy melt. It'll be great in an omelet or scrambled eggs, incorporated in risotto, sprinkled on a salad or tostada or in a taco, or melted over polenta. And, let's face it, it's got the fabulous flavors that the packages of shredded cheese you can buy at the supermarket are sadly lacking.

Along with the cheeses, my friend Diane and I sampled some olive oils Mary and her husband George are considering stocking. You can also find a selection of chocolates, Rey Knight's salumi, baguettes from Charlie's Best Bread in Pacific Beach and an assortment of condiments that marry well with cheese. If you've got any questions for Mary about cheese, twitter her @shreddedblend. She's a kick and will enjoy chatting with you.

Taste is located at 1243 1/2 University Ave. in Hillcrest.

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